Don’t Ask About the Begonias

People ask stupid questions. Anyone who works retail knows this. This is why you have to know everything when you work at a store, or else know someone who does know everything so you can either ask them or pass the buck. Er, consult someone with more experience. That’s what I meant. Anyway, you get used to the questions and if you have to ask your manager enough times eventually you know the answer.

One summer in college, my aunt got me a job at the plant nursery where she worked. With only a rudimentary knowledge of the care of plants (you water them, but not too much, trim off the dead pieces, make sure they’re in a comfy pot and some fertilizers are supposed to be blue), I set forth on my three months in a warm little shack ringing up peoples’ seedlings and sod.

Not rimming salt.

It wasn’t a difficult job, and for the most part it was interesting. I learned a lot about plants and my cousin worked there too, which meant that when it rained we became two adults chasing tiny frogs around and throwing mud at each other under the guise of putting tarps over the sod. That summer I had a lot of migraines, which I never connected to the heat in the register shack, so I spent a lot of time with ice packs on the back of my neck.

I also spent a lot of time making signs about people stealing my pens, moving the one fan so it was blowing on me, and writing bad fan fiction behind the register when I was supposed to be working. Every now and then I would be sent outside to water the plants, which meant I effectively went into a steam bath to make it steamier and I wasn’t allowed to turn the hose on myself.


It was one of the hottest summers anyone could remember in Texas, so I can’t say I was surprised when they called me into the office and told me that they were cutting back on staff because we weren’t selling enough plants. They told me to finish my shift so I’d get paid for the full week and that would be that.

Just because I wasn’t shocked didn’t mean I wasn’t pissed. The whole reason I came back for the summer was because I needed money, not because I couldn’t wait to watch my family argue over my boyfriend choices and be chauffeured around in Big D’s Suburban (I still didn’t have a driver’s license). So when someone called and got shirty with me on the phone about begonias, I sort of snapped.

These are Begonias.

According to my boss, you shouldn’t water begonias in the middle of the day in hot climates because they’ll melt. Rot is probably a better way of putting it, but we pretty much always told customers to water them early in the morning before things got too steamy. On that particular day I had another migraine, the fan fiction was going poorly, and I’d just been laid off so when the woman with the whiny voice called I wasn’t in the best frame of mind.

She asked when we closed and I told her pleasantly. She asked about bulbs and I informed her. She asked when we stopped selling bulbs and I repeated myself, slightly less pleasantly. She asked our closing time again, then proceeded to tell me I was the rudest person she’d ever talked to and she wouldn’t be buying anything from us. I said I was sorry to hear it and asked if there was anything else she needed. She then asked me the question I’d heard about a thousand times since the mercury hit 100.

“Can I water my begonias around noon?”

“Sure,” I said with a grin in my voice, “You can water them all day long.” Then I hung up on her, untied my apron, told my boss to send my check to my dorm, and clocked out. She was a little surprised but said she’d love to hire me back if I wanted to work next summer. Sure, I thought. Right up until Whiny Lady becomes Dead Begonia Lady.

By the time I reached the edge of the property, I’d already forgotten the whole thing. After all, The Dad was picking me up and I had a Discman full of anime theme music to listen to on the way home. Ah, summertime.


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